Interview The EYLF at 10

‘It was exhilarating to be part of a group aspiring for the best’: Peter Whiteman on the EYLF consortium

To mark 10 years since the formation of the consortium of researchers, practitioners and experts that developed the Early Years Learning Framework, we spoke with many of the original members of that consortium to hear their reflections on the EYLF.

Dr Peter Whiteman is an experienced music educator who has worked with children and families in prior-to-school, school and community settings. He has worked in early childhood teacher education since 1999, most recently as Head of the Institute of Early Childhood at Macquarie University. Peter’s research has been presented and published in the United States, the United Kingdom, China, Hong Kong and Singapore. He was a member of the team that developed the Early Years Learning Framework for Australia, and regularly returns to the University of Washington School of Music as Visiting Scholar. Currently an Associate Faculty Member in the S.R. Nathan School of Human Development, Singapore University of Social Sciences, Peter presents professional learning workshops for teachers in Singapore and Sydney and he is also the Early Learning Consultant for ABC Kids Listen, a dedicated radio station for children birth-5 years from the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

The Framework: Thanks for speaking to us – tell us a bit about your current roles.

Dr Whiteman: Currently, I am the early learning consultant for ABC Kids Listen, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s dedicated radio station for pre-schoolers. I hold an Associate Faculty position at Singapore University of Social Sciences where I teach some of the creative arts components of the early childhood education degree. I also continue as Visiting Scholar in the music education program at the University of Washington School of Music, Seattle, and also present some professional learning workshops for early childhood teachers here in Sydney and in Singapore.

What were you doing 10 years ago when it was announced you would be one of the consortium?

I joined the consortium not long after joining the staff at the Institute of Early Childhood (IEC) at Macquarie University. . I had been working in early childhood teacher education for a while and moving to Macquarie was a natural career progression for me.

What are your memories of developing the EYLF with your consortium colleagues?

There was an amazing commitment to produce a first class document, right from the outset. Everyone who was involved was an expert in their field and to have so many people working towards a common goal, that was going to be adopted right across the country, was inspirational.

I remember feeling that for the first time in a long time, I was part of something that was going to drive change and really make a difference, when in other parts of my job I was increasingly involved in a world of compliance. It was exhilarating to be part of a group aspiring for the best, rather than aspiring for the mediocre, in a world of over-regulation that was fast becoming the norm for other areas of teacher education.

What would you say was most successful about the development of the EYLF?

Having good pedagogical practices, being based around relational pedagogies, and being centred around people not content.  When learning and teaching are reduced to content, prior-to-school and school education easily become dehumanised. Of course content is important, but it is how we engage with it, who we engage with, and where that all happens that helps prepare learners for the ambiguities of life.

Imagine if children finished school knowing a truckload of facts, with no idea of what to do with them or how to interact with others. What sorts of cultures would we be creating then?

What do you think could have been done better?

That’s a loaded question! I’m sure that everyone would have ideas about how things could have been done differently, but for a framework that was going to be adopted nationwide, there were always going to be compromises. Australia is such a large and diverse nation, but for something that had to fit the bill for all jurisdictions, I think the EYLF did remarkably well.

Perhaps there is room for some discussion around content, because as everyone knows, there is increasing pressure on Universities and RTOs to cover more and more in less and less time. If issues around content were privileged over issues around pedagogy though, that would be a sad state of affairs. There is probably room for some discussion, perhaps as a sideline to the EYLF. Who knows, now that AITSL standards encompass teachers in prior-to-school settings, perhaps content knowledge development might be addressed in some way.

Can you tell us a bit more about that idea of content versus pedagogy?

For example, in my area of music education, I firmly believe music is a symbol system that humans use in a communicative capacity. ‘Musicking’, a term coined by musicologist and theorist Christopher Small, is an activity rather than a thing; something with which children actively engage rather than passively consume. On the other hand, some people think that music is all about patterns of sounds and silences. There are many different philosophical and pedagogical discussions to be had in that area, and these also have implications for what teachers need to know about the arts and their developing pedagogies. And that’s before we even get to things like visual arts and movement, which have similar debates surrounding them as well!

How well do you think the EYLF has been utilised by the sector since its adoption?

The sector is so diverse and therefore, utilisation is likely to be diverse. Those working in the sector come with a variety of post-school educational and experiences that result in as wide a variety of approaches to utilisation. I guess the key here is for those in leadership positions and positions of influence to embrace the notion of mentoring to the fullest extent possible.

I think there is probably a wealth of goodwill out there that could perhaps be channelled just a little more, to fully prosecute the EYLF and what is has to offer. Of course, this is dependent on funding and the development of strong skills in mentoring and inquiry.

If you were brought back in to review the EYLF now, what would you change/do differently?

I think I talked a bit about this before when talking about the issues of content. Would it be better to have information about content? I don’t know. I know these are discussions that need to be had, and frankly, teachers are beginning to have them.

Perhaps it is in the context of reflective practice, that is inextricably woven into the EYLF, that consideration of content knowledge should be afforded time and effort.

I do know that having too much in the way of content as part of the EYLF would be diabolically difficult, and play into the hands of mediocrity that I spoke about before. because there would be so many different philosophical views that either the loudest would win, or more likely, that which offended the fewest, resulting in a very safe, uninspiring document.

Thank you to Dr Peter Whiteman for reflecting on his experiences with the EYLF consortium for The Framework.

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